The Peasant Poet

He loved the brook’s soft sound,
The swallow swimming by.
He loved the daisy-covered ground,
The cloud-bedappled sky.
To him the dismal storm appeared
The very voice of God;
And when the evening rack was reared
Stood Moses with his rod.
And everything his eyes surveyed,
The insects in the brake,
Were creatures God Almighty made,
He loved them for His sake–
A silent man in life’s affairs,
A thinker from a boy,
A peasant in his daily cares,
A poet in his joy.

John Clare

High Wood

every so often a poem catches my breath and I feel wonder at its impact.  This prophetic poem was written in 1918.  The poet Philip Johnstone appears to be a pseudonym and little else is known about him.  There are some preserved trenches in Belgium and France, and I too have trod the tourist’s path s at Hooge and Vimy Ridge, feeling slightly uncomfortable at indulging in battlefield tourism.  
High Wood

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood, 
Called by the French, Bois des Fourneaux, 
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen, 
July, August and September was the scene 
Of long and bitterly contested strife, 
By reason of its High commanding site. 
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees 
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench 
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands; 
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave. 
It has been said on good authority 
That in the fighting for this patch of wood 
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men, 
Of whom the greater part were buried here, 
This mound on which you stand being… 
Madame, please, 
You are requested kindly not to touch 
Or take away the Company’s property 
As souvenirs; you’ll find we have on sale 
A large variety, all guaranteed. 
As I was saying, all is as it was, 
This is an unknown British officer, 
The tunic having lately rotted off. 
Please follow me – this way … 
the path, sir, please
The ground which was secured at great expense 
The Company keeps absolutely untouched, 
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide 
Refreshments at a reasonable rate. 
You are requested not to leave about 
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel, 
There are waste-paper-baskets at the gate

By Philip Johnstone.

Gathering Sticks on Sunday

If the man in the moon

Gazing at the waning earth, watches

How the frayed edge of the sunset catches

Thimbles and nodules of rock,

Hachuring distinct with threads of shadow

All that is hammered flat in the earth’s brass noon;

And if he sees,

New in the level light,  like pock-

marks on a face, dark craters,

The size of acorn cups, or scars

Vast as his own dried oceans, then

He’ll know that soon

The living world of men

Will take a lunar look, as dead as slag,

And moon and earth will stare at one another

Like the cold, yellow skulls of child and mother.

Norman Nicholson

An unseasonable poem by Norman Nicholson 

South Cumberland, 16 May 1943

The sun has set

Behind Black Combe and the lower hills,

But northward in the sky the fells

Like gilded galleons on a sea of shadow

Float sunlit yet.

The liquid light

Soaks into the dry motes of the air,

Bright and moist until the flood of dawn;

Shoals of swifts round the market tower

Swim with fish-like flight.

Six days ago

The fells were limed with snow; the starlings on the chimney pots

Shook the falling flakes off their tin feathers.

May gives a sample of four seasons’ weathers

For a week on show.

Trouble at Mill

A cold, wet, windy weekend in store so what better excuse to settle down with some yarn, a good book, radio on one side, shelties on the other.  The lentil Hashis Parmentier in the slow cooker. 
One of the programmes I am looking forward to this weekend is Poetry Extra on radio 4 extra tomorrow afternoon.   I don’t read much poetry but there are 5 poets who I do read and re-read constantly – John Clare, Edward Thomas, Adam Thorpe, Ivor Gurney and Norman Nicholson.  If you know these poets you can probably see a common theme. 
Here is Coastal Journey, taken from Norman Nicholson’s Collected Poems.

Poetry Extra – Provincial Pleasures – Norman Nicholson – @BBCRadio4Extra

Fir Wood

The firs that taper into twigs and wear

The rich blue green of summer all the year,

Softening the roughest tempest almost calm,

And offering shelter ever still and warm

To the small path that travels underneath,

Where loudest winds almost as summer’s breath

Scarce fan the weed that lingers green below,

When others out of doors are lost in frost and snow,

And sweet the music trembles on the ear

As the wind suthers through each tiny spear,

Makeshifts for leaves, and yet so rich they show

Winter is almost summer where they grow.
John Clare

The Wood is Sweet – poems of Clare selected by David Powell

Published by the John Clare Society

Autumn Birds




The wild duck startles like a sudden thought

And heron slow as if it might be caught

The flopping crows on weary wing go bye

And grey beard jackdaws noising as they flye

The crowds of starnels wiz and hurry bye

And darken like a cloud the evening sky

The larks like thunder rise and suthy round

Then drop and nestle in the stubble ground

The wild swan hurrys high and noises loud

With white necks peering to the evening cloud

The weary rooks to distant woods are gone

With length of tail the magpie winnows on

To neighbouring tree and leaves the distant crow

While small birds nestle in the hedge below


John Clare



Happy Yorkshire Day

On the day that the Yorkshire Dales Park extends into Lancashire, and the Lake District National Park extends so that the borders of the two parks come within spitting distance of one another, what better way of celebrating than by sharing a poem by Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson written in a Yorkshire dialect.

Nobbut God

First on, there was nobbut God, – Genesis 1, v 1., Yorkshire Dialect Translation.



First on

There was silence.

And God said:

‘Let there be clatter.’


The wind, unclenching,

Runs its thumbs

Along dry bristles of Yorkshire Fog.


The mountain ousel

Oboes its one note.


After rain

Water lobelia

Drips like a tap

On the tarn’s tight surface-tension.


But louder,

And every second nearer,

Like chain explosions

From furthest nebulae

Light-yearing across space:

The thudding of my own blood.


‘It’s nobbut me,’

Says God


Norman Nicholson



Batts by John Clare

I know not how batts propagate I have heard it asserted that they breed like mice but when I was a boy I was foolish enough to suppose they laid eggs like other birds & have often sought vainly to find them I remember there was an old ash tree in the Lordship with a woodpeckers hole in it of long standing a wryneck generally laid in it yearly & one year I swarmed up it to take the nest & on putting my hand into the hole I felt something different to what I usually met with so I hastily pulld it out when to my astonishment a multitude of batts followd in quick succession to the count of 20 or 30 I had not the hardihood to venture my hand into the hole again to satisfye my curiosity wether there was eggs in it but retreated down the tree as fast as I coud so it still remaind a mystery Batts are pleasing objects in the summer eves we usd to pull oft’ our hats when boys & keep bawling out ‘Bat bat come under my hat & I will give you a slice of bacon’ upon what superstitious notion it is founded I know not they hide in charnel vaults in steeples & old empty houses or barns it will steal its way into dairies were it feeds on the milk bacon or cheese like a mouse Collins in his delicious Ode to evening mentions it beautifully that I shall not venture to hunt up ‘other extracts to keep it company Now air is hushed save were the weak-eyd bat With short shrill shriek flits by on leatherback wing


NPG 1469; John Clare by William Hilton
by William Hilton, oil on canvas, 1820